New Hope in New York
By Carl Stagner
Since 1909, First Church of God in Far Rockaway, New York, has faithfully proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only have they kept a dynamic work going for more than a century, but they have also developed more and better disciples. Many of these disciples have become pastors and other ministry leaders. It’s not enough for First Church to exist; they feel compelled to meet the needs of the community around them. It’s not enough for First Church to preach the Word of God; they are committed to raising up new leaders in the ministry.
Just this past February, First Church observed Black History Month with grand celebration. They recognized African American contributors to society through literature and a special youth presentation featuring worship through gospel song and dance. But the emphasis of the church’s ministry is not only on teaching, discipleship, and honoring cultural heritage; they also emphasize reaching the community around them for Christ.
First Church of God has reached out into the community through a variety of ministries over the years. From computer and job skills training ministries, to a food pantry and community redevelopment programs, the church meets the needs that exist in their own backyard. Arthur W. Davenport, senior pastor of the congregation for thirty-five years, explains the church’s community-focused mission: “The ministry of Christ in Luke 4:18 and the book of Acts gives us an understanding of what our values should be. And the Great Commission commands us to go and share the gospel. It’s really what drives us. There are needs in our community that are evident just by walking through.”
Another goal of First Church is to minister to the whole person. When asked what that means, Davenport replied, “We know that any individual has spiritual, emotional, and social needs. We try to be specific to those needs.” The church offers a variety of ministries that address each area. Perhaps this is why the church has experienced blessing after blessing, including the development of new leaders and pastors.
On the church’s website, the words “Honoring God for our past, totally depending on him for the future” give insight into the church’s longevity and vitality. Depending on God for the future means developing new leaders while thanking God for a strong heritage. “We recognize our past by the path the servants of the church laid for us. We honor that, but then look forward to the future by developing leaders.” Davenport explains that First Church intentionally encourages people to keep an open mind for God’s call to the ministry.
Consistent leadership is another sign of God’s blessing on First Church. Research suggests that the average stay of a senior pastor is only three to five years, but Pastor Davenport is serving in his thirty-fifth year. He credits balance between work and rest, as well as accountability, for his tenure. “I think one thing that we’re striving for is that we honor that Sabbath. There is a rhythm to life. One has to value rest. Then you have to be a part of a network of pastors and ministers that support one another and keep each other accountable. You also have to learn to delegate and raise up laypeople. Laypeople have to be a part of the vision of the church.”
Nearly fifty ministers have been developed through the work of First Church of God in Far Rockaway, New York. Only time will tell how many more leaders God will raise up.
This story is an example of Strategic Value Four: Cultivate! Nurturing the spiritual gifts of every individual, church, and agency (1 Cor 12:1–7) and Strategic Value Two: Permeate! Engaging every individual, church, and agency in the Great Commandments (Matt 22:37–39).